General Question

neonez's avatar

Is it ethical to buy used media (movies, video games)?

Asked by neonez (383 points ) February 12th, 2008

How is it right to be able to have the full experience of any given media without giving credit to the creators?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

30 Answers

paulc's avatar

Yes because by virtue of the fact that the creators agreed to have their work it produced into saleable units they have also agreed to allowing it to be sold and resold as such. If they’re ok with it, I’m ok with it. We’re all ok. Okay. What a strange word.

gooch's avatar

Yes, I totally agree you bought it legally so you can sell it leagally. Just don’t make a copy to keep. I bought a car and enjoyed it then sold it to the next guy who enjoyed it. To me it is the same thing.

aaronblohowiak's avatar

There is a fallacy in your argument. Your argument itself suggests that used media purchases are not giving credit to the creators. Why do you insist this is the case?

A creator makes something, and arranges a sale price for the distributor, and the distributor sells through sub-distributors until it gets to the end consumer. Then, in used media market, another consumer buys it. The way the pay is structured (and the price) is different on both sides of the original consumer, (going up each step before, and back down afterwards, with residuals before and no residuals afterwards,) but in every case you have a buyer and a seller. Now in the media distribution markets, you may have deferred payment whereby the purchase effectively happens at the same time as the item is resold, but the details of the monetary agreements up the chain of ownership are of little concern.

When you own something, you own it. The copyright holder no longer has any claim to the control of the distribution of their goods after the “first” sale. This is called the first sale doctrine ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-sale_doctrine )

boydieshere's avatar

And generally, if I understand your argument, creators are just happy for their creation to be seen and/or enjoyed. I would more expect a creator to be happy his creation is getting distributed.

jamms's avatar

You should think of the product you are purchasing as just that, a product, an item, a tangible item that is a piece of matter that you are purchasing. It is your right as the owner of the item to resell it, borrow it, or make a copy of it for personal use (although I believe the courts have mixed opinions of this)

It would be immoral to profiteer from the resale of that item, as you would be exploiting the creator of the item. It would be fair use for you to sell the item for the exact price you paid for it to another person or company.

aaronblohowiak's avatar

Jamms, please justify your moral claim on the profiting from the resale of goods.

For example, take rare limited-release “collector’s edition” into account in your explanation.

jamms's avatar

Thanks a very good point.

Lets say for example you are given a cd at a concert which later on becomes a collectors item. I would consider it immoral to sell that gift as it was given to you at no charge but you are exploiting a situation where you have something that is in high demand. I would think the appropriate thing to do would be to give it away the same as it was given to you.

Another example could be the Radiohead box that was for sale last October. The box comes with two vinyl disks. Lets assume this is the only vinyl copies of the album that will ever be created. It would be immoral to sell the records for more than the $80 that was asked for the initial box set.

Neither of these examples would be illegal. I think it’s exploitation to take advantage of the situation where demand can present you with a method of profit that would allow you to benefit from being at the show or being an early adopter of the media.

You could make an argument that a rare Beatles record from the 60’s was purchased at a much reduced rate then any record in 2008 and it would be wrong to state that the only moral price would be the price tag from the time the album was created. I do not feel it’s right to put a higher price tag of an item, music, movie, comic, baseball card, because it’s rare, mint, or special.

There is nothing wrong with buying those items at inflated prices, and there is nothing wrong with selling them at whatever price the market is willing to pay. If it were my decision I would put give the free cd away to someone who would appriechiate it. I would sell the radiohead records to someone with a turn table for less than I paid for the box set. I would give the beatles album to my offspring.

gooch's avatar

Okay what about art you enjoy it and sell it for more or what? A Piccaso for example which is purchased for enjoyment and investment.

Zaku's avatar

@gooch: What about it?

gooch's avatar

Is it okay to sell it for more or is that immoral. I don’t think so but according to some posters it may be exploiting the artist?

aaronblohowiak's avatar

Jamms, who is being harmed in the “exploitation” ? No-one is being deprived or robbed. It seems as though you have an aversion towards allowing people to monetize the value created by (increased) demand for goods. When a luxury good (as most things covered by copyright are) is sold for a profit, who is being harmed? The individual who is willing to pay more? What is the nature of the entitlement of a purchaser to the original sale price of the item?

The emergent market behavior from what you are suggesting would lead to deflation. Is that your aim?

Zaku's avatar

@gooch: I think such posters would be inventing a new economy and/or morality.

A story about Picasso is that he used to write cheques and no one ever cashed them because they felt the signature was worth more than the amount on the cheque.

neonez's avatar

I don’t think its immoral to sell something at a higher price. It may be due to high demand or low supply that the value is actually more than it was originally. While that may be taking advantage of the low supply, that is the market value of the particular item that you are selling and people are willing to pay that. Also, it is the customers decision to buy something. they don’t have to buy it from you so you can’t really put blame on the seller.

So an example would be an extremely rare comic book . since the value of the book has transfered from the story of the comic book to the collectability of it, the original 75 cents that you payed for it has nothing to do with its actual worth.

Poser's avatar

@Jamms—The same argument could be made for any item, not just copyrighted ones. For instance, say a home builder is selling homes for $x on a new site. Once all the lots are full, there can be no more supply. The builder’s job is done and he moves on. Now suppose the new neighborhood becomes immensely popular. Since the supply is limited and demand is rising, prices naturally rise also. Does this mean that home sellers should sell their homes for the original price? Would it be exploitation to sell the home for more?

Zaku's avatar

@Poser: In the housing example, I don’t particularly care that someone might exploit a market like that EXCEPT that it is for housing, which in practice often has harmful impacts on society and the environment. When housing prices become unaffordable, it creates serious social problems, and when building housing (where there is land plants and animals have been using) becomes highly profitable, people do it just to make money, doing further damage to the non-humans people are mindlessly pushing off the planet, which is going to come back and bite our sorry behinds eventually, and we’ll so deserve it.

Eight's avatar

@zaku. Interesting, this imbuing personal morality onto the marketplace, which I’m guessing, in your mind is already a tainted arena. Let’s consider another scenario. You, Zaku, we assume have a specific skill, not much in demand, say html programming (that’s a joke, by the way) and you take a job with a company that pays you minimum wage with no benefits. You do not have a non-compete contract. Two years go by and the demand for html programmers skyrockets and another company, in a completely different field, offers you essentially the same job for 100K/yr with medical and retirement benefits. You acquired no new skills while working at your original employer. Nothing has changed except the market demand. Would it be immoral to take the new job? That is, the value of your work has changed only because of market demand, nothing inherent in you, the product.

Poser's avatar

Eight makes the point much more succinctly and effectively than I did. @Zaku—you jumped onto my example while barely touching the point I was trying to make. You say you don’t particularly care that someone would exploit a market “like that.” Pray tell, what is the difference between a market “like that” and the media market?

You seem to have a problem with the free market and the law (natural, btw, not man made) of supply and demand. Each skill a human being may posses—be it writing music, painting a picture, building a house, programming computers, flying airplanes, playing football—can be utilized to provide for their well-being. Many of these skills are not necessarily inherently valuable (a painting, for example, is practically useless). It is largely the respective demand for a particular skill which makes one able to make a living doing it (granted, one’s ability to do it well plays some part). This is why, forty or fifty years ago, the IT profession didn’t exist, and being a computer programmer was largely an experimental profession rather than a practical one. These days, the profession is growing because the demand is rising.

Zaku's avatar

@Eight: Morality is something humans invent. In your HTML writer scenario, my personal morality would have me look at my relationship with my first employer, to see if I have any obligation to stay working with him, perhaps by offering to let him make me an offer to stay. The way you described it, it sounds like there’s no such relationship, so I don’t see any moral issue.

@Poser: I don’t have a moral/ethical objection to selling skills, real or movable property, or media, for whatever price a person can get for it, in and of itself.
What I do see a problem with, is when the free actions of people (or especially, organizations like for-profit corporations) interfere with other people’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. So, when it becomes difficult for someone to afford a home because wealthy land-owning interests are maximizing their profits, I think there’s a place for an artificial limit on housing values. Same for when forests are being destroyed by atrocious housing complexes. It’s not that profiteering is immoral in itself, but it is when it starts crushing the possibility for others to live.

neonez's avatar

Zaku: How do you define what economic level people have to be to own a house? Whatever the price there will still be people who cannot afford owning a home. Selling houses at inflated prices will cause a reduction in the amount of people willing to buy and lower the prices (simple supply and demand).

Zaku's avatar

@neonez: Personally, I think ideally everyone should be able to own a house, because it’s a basic human need and it causes suffering and resentment and fractures society to say some people aren’t worthy of having a stable right to a place to live, while other very wealthy people and companies have a right to maximize their profits that outweighs that basic human need. An interim step to that goal, might be that minimum wage should provide for basic needs for one person to live say by renting an apartment. Or you could say maybe that a median wage should provide for basic needs plus enough to save up for ten years and be able to own a dwelling outright.
You assert that the market will somehow naturally make something equitable happen but this seems both logically and in practice to not be the case, at least not on a practical scale, since what the market is in practice doing where I live, is concentrating wealth in the hands of giant real estate corporations and investment-turnover condominumizers and rents and homes are not affordable on a single median income (let alone minimum wage). I don’t see any sign of this correcting itself by some sort of natural market force in the next hundred years without some major changes that go beyond supply & demand theories.

neonez's avatar

Right, our economy is far from perfect and there will be times when house pricing is abnormally high but what I find substantially more disconcerting is a government that has the power to strictly regulate the pricing of anything as large as a house. Any government of that size and power is bound to be corrupt and far to restricting.

Poser's avatar

And I’m of the belief that markets are self-regulating, and screwing with them by artificially restricting prices has negative effects. Monopolies can’t exist in free-markets, and where there is a demand, free-markets will find a supply.

Zaku's avatar

Hmm. Well I know you’re not alone in those ideas. Myself, I observe what does exist all around me now, and I see homelessness and unaffordable homes and increasing concentration of wealth in rich investors and all-for-profit companies, and destruction of forests and construction of horrid investment developments, and they look a lot more real and important to me than economic theories or corrupt and restrictive government.

Poser's avatar

Perhaps, but how many of those problems are caused by corrupt and restrictive government?

Eight's avatar

@Zaku. Nice side step. Let’s try again. Same scenario. You offer your employer (exploiter) the opportunity to match or try to match the offer you’ve received from a competing organization. Your current employer (slave driver) refuses. You now have a binary decision: stay with the current employer who is paying minimum wage with no benefits (verrry amoral) or work for a different employer in essentially the same field offering 100K with medical, dental, child care and retirement. Oh, and the two firms are equivalent in terms of position in the military-industrial-educational-penal-pharmecutical complex. Is there a moral issue in changing employers for the higher salary? The higher salary is a product of a change in demand for your rare skills. If not a moral issue, how is this different than selling a book/painting/house for more than it was purchased because it’s market value has increased due to an increase in demand?

Zaku's avatar

@Poser: I don’t see how any of the issues I mentioned are caused by corrupt and restrictive government. In fact, I’d say that corrupt government is failing to protect the people and server their will and interests, for example by allowing development companies to multiply profits in exploitive ways that no one likes except the developers and investors, e.g.:

* to easily condominiumize their affordable appartments and effectively evict them
* to take beautiful landscapes that many people and wildlife enjoyed and appreciated every day, and filling them to the gills with suburban clone rowhouses that make me prefer I were in a British rowhouse slum.
* to take nice old houses and either bulldoze them for digusting new multi-home units or build ridiculous units in the yards they used to have.
* to keep having the public re-vote on new luxury developments until the get a vote through that adds tax to subsidize construction and some private for-profit industry (e.g. new sports stadiums – public votes no no no no then yes when a vote was scheduled at a weird time).

@Eight: Side-step?
Ok. No, I still don’t see any moral/ethical issue with changing employers. Why would there be? And no, I don’t think it is different from profiting on resale of a book, painting or house. As I said, I don’t think there’s any moral issue with profiting that way, in and of itself. The only issue I see is when it causes suffering or problems for others, so the issue is not the profit, but something else such as if the “free market” makes all houses cost way more than anyone will ever be able to afford (dividing society into landed and unlanded classes).

Eight's avatar

@Zaku. That’s a good clarification. Thank you. More to follow.

gilgamesh's avatar

i buy things that are used and there really is no problem, your still paying and you shouldn’t worry about this

neonez's avatar

gilgamesh: Well my argument is that you can enjoy the same experience but without paying the creators. That in my mind is rather similar to illegal file sharing save for the fact that you don’t lose the experience after you have shared the files and you feel alright buying something used because you’re paying someone.

MaryW's avatar

This is a wonderful discussion. I think yes once something is sold in the marketplace it valued or devalues and can be resold intact: with credits to author and producer if at all possible intact. It is a kudo to the author when something is so valued that it continues on. As far as media goes it changes so often that the author has to reissue anyway to keep up with technology and the intact copies sure do enthuse people to upgrade and buy the new “stuff” .
No, I do not ever copy and steal to sell or give away any computer or TV media. That is different.

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